Law Enforcement Draws Criticism After Breach of Capitol Building

Six days before a raucous rally of President Trump’s supporters in Washington, Representative Maxine Waters anxiously grilled the chief of the Capitol Police about his preparations for various scenarios: Were the rooftops secured? Would streets be blocked off? Did he know that violent groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers were vowing to stir up chaos?

Ms. Waters, a California Democrat, said each of her concerns was met with a similar response from Chief Steven Sund during their hourlong call: “He assured me that they have everything under control, that they were on top of everything.”

They weren’t. Instead an angry mob of pro-Trump extremists swarmed the barricades around the Capitol on Wednesday, spraying chemical irritants and wielding lead pipes, injuring more than 50 officers. They battered doors, broke windows and scaled the walls, rampaging through the building as congressional leaders made desperate calls for help.

The Capitol Police seemed to offer little resistance and arrested only 14 people, making it much more difficult to find and charge the rioters, according to a law enforcement official involved in coordinating the response.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who spent 36 years in the Senate, criticized the stark contrast between the militarized and sometimes violent phalanxes deployed against protesters of racial injustice over the summer and the outnumbered officers who cringed and retreated from — or posed for a selfie with — the mostly white pro-Trump mob.

“No one can tell me that if it had been a group of Black Lives Matter protesting yesterday, they wouldn’t have been treated very, very differently than the mob of thugs that stormed the Capitol,” Mr. Biden said in a video statement. “We all know that’s true, and it is unacceptable.”

Policing experts noted the absence of crowd-control tools such as mounted officers, police dogs or a heavily manned perimeter.

Pentagon officials said Thursday that the Capitol Police had turned down an offer for additional National Guard troops before Wednesday’s storming of the Capitol, and two law enforcement officials said they had initially rebuffed help from the F.B.I. as the mob descended.

“How they were not ready for this today, I have no idea,” said Charles Ramsey, a former D.C. police chief. “They were overwhelmed; they did not have the resources. You have to be able to protect the Capitol.”

But others in law enforcement insisted that the president’s encouragement of the mob could not have been anticipated.

“No one expected the president to say, ‘Hey guys, let’s all go down to the Capitol and show them who’s boss,’” said Jose Cervino, who worked for the department for 14 years and helped plan security for large events and protests. “That is a completely different thing that no one’s ever planned or prepared for. How could you?”

Mr. Cervino defended the hesitancy to use weapons, saying the department’s primary mandate was to protect the lawmakers, not the building.

“We have the members and we have the leadership secured. Is it correct to start shooting people?” Mr. Cervino asked. “I can’t imagine that I would be happier today if we found out we kept the crowd out, but wound up shooting 40 people.”

Theortis Jones, a Black officer whose career stretched from the Nixon inauguration to Barack Obama’s, said the agency had consistently overreacted to events with Black participants. He recalled that when Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader, visited the Capitol with a handful of associates, all officers were required to stay at their posts and a SWAT team was stationed in the garage. “I thought that was an insult to every Black officer on the force,” he said.

In 2001, more than 250 officers filed a suit against the Capitol Police Department, claiming discrimination was rampant in the ranks and that, at the time, Black and minority officers were severely underrepresented in the ranks. The initial breach of the barricades began before 1 p.m. and was followed by hours of chaos in which rioters looted, vandalized and livestreamed. Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland received a frantic call from the House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, who told him that “the U.S. Capitol Police was overwhelmed, that there was no federal law enforcement presence.”

“The leaders of Congress were pleading with me as the governor of Maryland for assistance,” Governor Hogan said. He said though he wanted to authorize the mobilization of the Maryland National Guard, “We were repeatedly denied approval to do so,” leading to a 90-minute delay, he said.

The breakdowns in coordination began long before Jan. 6. The departure of William P. Barr from his post as attorney general in mid-December left the Justice Department with a leadership vacuum and wary of the president, who was pressuring the department to investigate supposed voter fraud, according to a law enforcement official involved in coordinating the response. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the meetings or the investigations.

Mayor Muriel Bowser of the District of Columbia, unhappy about heavy-handed federal treatment of protesters, argued for the Metropolitan Police Department to take the lead, law enforcement officials said. She warned residents and counterprotesters to stay home.

But the Capitol Police have exclusive jurisdiction at the Capitol and its grounds.

Michael Chertoff, a Homeland Security secretary in the George W. Bush administration, questioned why Wednesday’s rallies were not designated a National Special Security Event, which would have allowed the Secret Service to take the lead on the response.

The Capitol Police did not request
assistance from the Homeland Security Department until 2:30 p.m., according to officials.

“The failure was the Capitol Police. They would have to be the requesting agency. But they were late in doing it,” Mr. Chertoff said. “It wasn’t a surprise attack, all you had to do was read the newspaper and see that the president was telling people to go wild. A 5-year-old would know this would be a center of focus here.”

Though pro-Trump extremists chattered openly online about seizing the Capitol, and posted photos of their weapons, the federal government did not issue bulletins outlining that threat to “fusion centers” that were created to keep state and local law enforcement informed, said Mike Sena, the president of the National Fusion Center Association.

Chase Jennings, a spokesman for the Homeland Security Department, said the agency “had open channels with partners and shared information on those channels.”

But Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, who runs the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the budget for the Capitol Police, said none of the intelligence presented in the planning meetings leading up to Wednesday suggested that the Capitol might be stormed.

“We are going to do a deep dive to figure out exactly what happened from the intelligence side and from the threat assessment side,” Mr. Ryan said. “We did not have enough manpower there to hold the line.”

It took more than two hours to restore order. One woman, identified as Ashli Babbitt, was fatally shot by a Capitol Police officer, according to Robert J. Contee III, chief of the city’s Metropolitan Police Department, which was among the agencies called in for backup. Another woman and two men died during the events because of medical emergencies, he said.

The Metropolitan Police had arrested 69 adults and one minor by early Thursday morning, mostly for violating the city’s 6 p.m. curfew and unlawful entry. Four men ranging in age from 25 to 40 were charged with carrying handguns without permits. Only one of the 70 people arrested was a D.C. resident, according to documents released by the department.

The Capitol Police made 14 arrests, including one of a 70-year-old man from Alabama they said had a gun and materials to make several Molotov cocktails. The F.B.I. asked the public to call its hotline with any tips about the rioters.

Critics noted that Mr. Trump repeatedly lashed out at racial justice protesters but reacted to the mob on Wednesday with tenderness. After George Floyd’s death, he called demonstrators “thugs” and promised that those who got out of line would be met with “the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen.”

Federal law enforcement officers swept people into unmarked vans and used pepper spray to clear peaceful protesters so that Mr. Trump could pose for photos in front of a church. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he wrote.

But he was far kinder to those who stormed the Capitol. Hours after the riot began, he finally posted a video saying, “You have to go home now.” He added, “We love you. You’re very special.”

Shenita Binns, 42, a federal employee who has taken part in numerous racial justice protests in Washington and around the country, said she was struck by the deference given to the mob on Wednesday. Usually protesters cannot get anywhere near the Capitol steps.

At a demonstration in June, some participants tried to talk to police officers. “They stood there like statues and did not say anything back except stuff like ‘Don’t come up here’ or ‘Don’t go that way,’” she said. “If anybody tried to get past them they were pushed back down.”

Katie Benner, Jennifer Steinhauer, John Eligon, Emily Cochrane, Helene Cooper, John Ismay and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs contributed reporting.